Renewable energy takes centre stage in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi - As concerns rise about the sustainability of fossil fuels and with the cost of solar panels dropping sharply, renewable energy is high on the agenda again. With its abundance of sun and energy expertise and because of a push for innovation led by the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is widely regarded as the potential leader in the still-developing field.
The vision for a greener MENA is there and, with carbon dioxide emissions in Gulf states among the highest in the world, it needs to be.
This should get the spotlight when the World Future Energy Summit, part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, marks its tenth anniversary January 16th-19th. Leading industry and government figures are expected to attend what is considered the most influential event for advancing the use of renewables, energy efficiency and clean technology.
As the summit’s host, the UAE has been working to live up to the gathering’s message. The UAE Energy Plan 2050, unveiled January 10th, aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, increase clean energy use 50% and improve energy efficiency 40%, resulting in savings of $190.5 billion.
“Ensuring the sustainability of energy resources means ensuring the sustainability of the country’s growth,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, said when announcing the plan.
For all the vision, however, experts say there must be a commitment to change shared by governments, the private sector, investors and residents.
Ulysses Papadopoulos, founder and chief executive officer of GreenEmirates, said those with the capacity to invest are realising the potential that renewable energy offers and now companies and communities need to follow suit.
“The UAE has committed to the COP 22 Paris agreement on climate change and aggressive targets have been set but I believe businesses in the UAE must understand why they need to come on board,” he said.
“One of our biggest issues is transport, for example. So many people drive vehicles without regard to their efficiency, engine size and so on. The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology has said it will regulate larger cars. So there is a government commitment but people on the ground need to be better educated and there also needs to be more, better streamlined regulation.”
“In Abu Dhabi and in Sharjah, the tariff for disposing of landfill waste by tonne is much higher than in Dubai and recycling companies in Dubai have said this doesn’t encourage businesses to seek alternatives,” he said. Dubai also has 150 charging stations for electric vehicles but many motoring retailers are not even importing electric or hybrid cars.
“The UAE is very ambitious and committed where green energy is concerned, but it also has thousands of companies who are not operating in a green way,” Papadopoulos said.
One of the often-heard arguments against green energy is that it costs too much but Papadopoulos said the alternative message needs to get through.
“Green energy is not more expensive. It actually saves money,” he said, “and it is more cost-effective to go green from day one, so you do not have to implement it later on.
“The introduction of more tariffs on water and electricity in the UAE means high consumers face a high cost and we receive a lot of inquiries from companies about how they can reduce these energy costs.”
The single biggest change needed towards becoming a more sustainable country, however, is in how buildings are constructed, Papadopoulos said. Property owners do not necessarily want to look at fitting solar panels or installing energy-efficient measures, he pointed out, but offering them a greater range of options would make this a more attractive proposition.
“Many businesses will now come in, fit solar power panels, pay for them, then charge a monthly fee,” he said. “There is a lot of activity in this area from investors. It is all about having that initial push.”
However, Abu Dhabi, Papadopoulos said, has some catching up to do with neighbouring Dubai, because the reliance of residents in the UAE capital on energy subsidies has led to overuse of energy.
“Abu Dhabi has been very socially conscious in providing power and water as a form of community support but this has not encouraged its residents to be mindful of their consumption,” he explained. “Now, this has started to change but I would say that Abu Dhabi, in this regard, is two to three years behind Dubai.”